Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator Dr Rebecca Priestley has been announced as the winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Science Communication Prize. 

Dr Priestley is a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in the Science in Society Group. She has been an Associate Investigator in Te Pūnaha Matatini since the Centre was established in 2015.

Te Pūnaha Matatini is one of ten national Centres of Research Excellence. Its research focuses on the science of complex systems and networks, and applies this to study problems in society, the environment, and the economy. Dr Priestley co-leads a project in the Centre that studies public engagement by researchers.

“Dr Priestley is unique amongst New Zealand’s science communicators”, says Prof Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini. “She is not only an accomplished science writer and journalist, she also has academic standing as one of New Zealand’s leading historians of science and has undertaken pioneering work in the study of science’s engagement with society.”

She received the $100,000 prize from the Prime Minister at an event in Wellington today, joining Te Pūnaha Matatini’s Dr Michelle Dickinson, Dr Siouxsie Wiles and Prof Hendy, as previous winners of the prize. 

“We’ve placed public engagement and communication of our research at the heart of our mission” added Hendy, “and so it should be no surprise that Te Pūnaha Matatini has become the meeting place for New Zealand’s leading science communicators.”

Some of Dr Priestley’s prize money will be used to establish New Zealand’s first fund to support science journalism. Te Pūnaha Matatini will also contribute to this fund.

“As newsrooms shrink, it is getting harder for the media to cover science,” says Hendy. “For science engagement to work well, journalists need to be able to take the time to cover science stories critically. We hope this fund will help sustain independent science journalism in New Zealand.” 

Contact: Dr Rebecca Priestley (Rebecca.priestley@vuw.ac.nz 021 917050); Prof Shaun Hendy (shaun.hendy@auckland.ac.nz 021 1442349)